Henry David Thoreau.

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large farm for somebody, when cleared. According to
the Gazetteer, which was printed before the boundary
question was settled, this single Penobscot County, in
which we were, was larger than the whole State of
Vermont, with its fourteen counties ; and this was only
a part of the wild lands of Maine. We are concerned
now, however, about natural, not political limits. We


were about eighty miles, as the bird flies, from Bangor,
or one hundred and fifteen, as we had ridden, and
walked, and paddled. We had to console ourselves
with the reflection that this view was probably as good
as that from the peak, as far as it went ; and what were
a mountain without its attendant clouds and mists?
Like ourselves, neither Bailey nor Jackson had obtained
a clear view from the summit.

Setting out on our return to the river, still at an early
hour in the day, we decided to follow the course of
the torrent, which we supposed to be Murch Brook, as
long as it would not lead us too far out of our way.
We thus traveled about four miles in the very torrent
itself, continually crossing and recrossing it, leaping
from rock to rock, and jumping with the stream down
falls of seven or eight feet, or sometimes sliding down
on our backs in a thin sheet of water. This ravine
had been the scene of an extraordinary freshet in the
spring, apparently accompanied by a slide from the
mountain. It must have been filled with a stream of
stones and water, at least twenty feet above the present
level of the torrent. For a rod or two, on either side of
its channel, the trees were barked and splintered up to
their tops, the birches bent over, twisted, and sometimes
finely split, like a stable-broom; some, a foot in dia
meter, snapped off, and whole clumps of trees bent
over with the weight of rocks piled on them. In one
place we noticed a rock, two or three feet in diameter,
lodged nearly twenty feet high in the crotch of a tree.
For the whole four miles we saw but one rill emptying
in, and the volume of water did not seem to be increased


the first. We traveled thus very rapidly with a
downward impetus, and grew remarkably expert at leap
ing from rock to rock, for leap we must, and leap we did,
whether there was any rock at the right distance or not.
It was a pleasant picture when the foremost turned
about and looked up the winding ravine, walled in with
rocks and the green forest, to see, at intervals of a rod
or two, a red-shirted or green-jacketed mountaineer
against the white torrent, leaping down the channel
with his pack on his back, or pausing upon a conven
ient rock in the midst of the torrent to mend a rent in
his clothes, or unstrap the dipper at his belt to take a
draught of the water. At one place we were startled by
seeing, on a little sandy shelf by the side of the stream,
the fresh print of a man's foot, and for a moment real
ized how Robinson Crusoe felt in a similar case; but
at last we remembered that we had struck this stream
on our way up, though we could not have told where,
and one had descended into the ravine for a drink.
The cool air above and the continual bathing of our
bodies in mountain water, alternate foot, sitz, douche,
and plunge baths, made this walk exceedingly refresh
ing, and we had traveled only a mile or two, after
leaving the torrent, before every thread of our clothes
was as dry as usual, owing perhaps to a peculiar qual
ity in the atmosphere.

After leaving the torrent, being in doubt about our
course, Tom threw down his pack at the foot of the
loftiest spruce tree at hand, and shinned up the bare
trunk some twenty feet, and then climbed through the
green tower, lost to our sight, until he held the topmost


spray in his hand. 1 McCauslin, in his younger days,
had marched through the wilderness with a body of
troops, under General Somebody, and with one other
man did all the scouting and spying service. The
General's word was, "Throw down the top of that
tree," and there was no tree in the Maine woods so
high that it did not lose its top in such a case. I have
heard a story of two men being lost once in these woods,
nearer to the settlements than this, who climbed the
loftiest pine they could find, some six feet in diameter
at the ground, from whose top they discovered a soli
tary clearing and its smoke. When at this height, some
two hundred feet from the ground, one of them became
dizzy, and fainted in his companion's arms, and the
latter had to accomplish the descent with him, alter
nately fainting and reviving, as best he could. To Tom
we cried, " Where away does the summit bear ? where
the burnt lands?" The last he could only conjecture;
he descried, however, a little meadow and pond, lying
probably in our course, which we concluded to steer
for. On reaching this secluded meadow, we found
fresh tracks of moose on the shore of the pond, and the
water was still unsettled as if they had fled before us.

1 "The spruce tree," says Springer in '51, "is generally selected,
principally for the superior facilities which its numerous limbs afford
the climber. To gain the first limbs of this tree, which are from twenty
to forty feet from the ground, a smaller tree is undercut and lodged
against it, clambering up which the top of the spruce is reached. In
some cases, when a very elevated position is desired, the spruce tree
is lodged against the trunk of some lofty pine, up which we ascend to
a height twice that of the surrounding forest."

To indicate the direction of pines, one throws down a branch, and
a man on the ground takes the bearing.


A little farther, in a dense thicket, we seemed to be
still on their trail. It was a small meadow, of a few
acres, on the mountain-side, concealed by the forest,
and perhaps never seen by a white man before, where
one would think that the moose might browse and
bathe, and rest in peace. Pursuing this course, we soon
reached the open land, which went sloping down some
miles toward the Penobscot.

Perhaps I most fully realized that this was primeval,
untamed, and forever untamable Nature, or whatever
else men call it, while coming down this part of the
mountain. We were passing over " Burnt Lands,"
burnt by lightning, perchance, though they showed no
recent marks of fire, hardly so much as a charred
stump, but looked rather like a natural pasture for the
moose and deer, exceedingly wild and desolate, with
occasional strips of timber crossing them, and low pop
lars springing up, and patches of blueberries here and
there. I found myself traversing them familiarly, like
some pasture run to waste, or partially reclaimed by
man; but when I reflected what man, what brother or
sister or kinsman of our race made it and claimed it,
I expected the proprietor to rise up and dispute my
passage. It is difficult to conceive of a region unin
habited by man. We habitually presume his presence
and influence everywhere. And yet we have not seen
pure Nature, unless we have seen her thus vast and
drear and inhuman, though in the midst of cities. Na
ture was here something savage and awful, though
beautiful. I looked with awe at the ground I trod on,
to see what the Powers had made there, the form and


fashion and material of their work. This was that
Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and
Old Night. Here was no man's garden, but the un-
handseled globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor
mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor waste
land. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet
Earth, as it was made forever and ever, to be the
dwelling of man, we say, so Nature made it, and
man may use it if he can. Man was not to be as
sociated with it. It was Matter, vast, terrific, not
his Mother Earth that we have heard of, not for him
to tread on, or be buried in, no, it were being too
familiar even to let his bones lie there, the home,
this, of Necessity and Fate. There was clearly felt the
presence of a force not bound to be kind to man. It
was a place for heathenism and superstitious rites,
to be inhabited by men nearer of kin to the rocks and
to wild animals than we. We walked over it with a
certain awe, stopping, from time to time, to pick the
blueberries which grew there, and had a smart and
spicy taste. Perchance where our wild pines stand,
and leaves lie on their forest floor, in Concord, there
were once reapers, and husbandmen planted grain; but
here not even the surface had been scarred by man,
but it was a specimen of what God saw fit to make this
world. What is it to be admitted to a museum, to
see a myriad of particular things, compared with being
shown some star's surface, some hard matter in its
home ! I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which
I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not
spirits, ghosts, of which I am one, that my body


might, but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them.
What is this Titan that has possession of me ? Talk
of mysteries ! Think of our life in nature, daily to
be shown matter, to come in contact with it, rocks,
trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual
world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who
are we ? where are we ?

Erelong we recognized some rocks and other features
in the landscape which we had purposely impressed on
our memories, and, quickening our pace, by two o'clock
we reached the batteau. 1 Here we had expected to
dine on trout, but in this glaring sunlight they were
slow to take the bait, so we were compelled to make
the most of the crumbs of our hard-bread and our
pork, which were both nearly exhausted. Meanwhile
we deliberated whether we should go up the river a mile
farther, to Gibson's clearing, on the Sowadnehunk,
where there was a deserted log hut, in order to get a
half -inch auger, to mend one of our spike-poles with.
There were young spruce trees enough around us, and
we had a spare spike, but nothing to make a hole with.
But as it was uncertain whether we should find any
tools left there, we patched up the broken pole, as well
as we could, for the downward voyage, in which there
would be but little use for it. Moreover, we were un
willing to lose any time in this expedition, lest the wind
should rise before we reached the larger lakes, and de
tain us ; for a moderate wind produces quite a sea on

1 The bears had not touched things on our possessions. They some
times tear a batteau to pieces for the sake of the tar with which it is


these waters, in which a batteau will not live for a
moment; and on one occasion McCauslin had been
delayed a week at the head of the North Twin, which
is only four miles across. We were nearly out of
provisions, and ill prepared in this respect for what
might possibly prove a week's journey round by
the shore, fording innumerable streams, and threading
a trackless forest, should any accident happen to our

It was with regret that we turned our backs on Che-
suncook, which McCauslin had formerly logged on,
and the Allegash lakes. There were still longer rapids
and portages above; among the last the Ripogenus
Portage, which he described as the most difficult on the
river, and three miles long. The whole length of the
Penobscot is two hundred and seventy -five miles, and
we are still nearly one hundred miles from its source.
Hodge, the Assistant State Geologist, passed up this
river in 1837, and by a portage of only one mile and
three quarters crossed over into the Allegash, and so
went down that into the St. John, and up the Mada-
waska to the Grand Portage across to the St. Lawrence.
His is the only account that I know of an expedition
through to Canada in this direction. He thus describes
his first sight of the latter river, which, to compare
small things with great, is like Balboa's first sight of the
Pacific from the mountains of the Isthmus of Darien.
" When we first came in sight of the St. Lawrence," he
says, " from the top of a high hill, the view was most
striking, and much more interesting to me from having
been shut up in the woods for the two previous months.


Directly before us lay the broad river, extending across
nine or ten miles, its surface broken by a few islands
and reefs, and two ships riding at anchor near the
shore. Beyond, extended ranges of uncultivated hills,
parallel with the river. The sun was just going down
behind them, and gilding the whole scene with its part
ing rays."

About four o'clock, the same afternoon, we com
menced our return voyage, which would require but
little if any poling. In shooting rapids the boatmen
use large and broad paddles, instead of poles, to guide
the boat with. Though we glided so swiftly, and often
smoothly, down, where it had cost us no slight effort
to get up, our present voyage was attended with far
more danger; for if we once fairly struck one of the
thousand rocks by which we were surrounded, the boat
would be swamped in an instant. When a boat is
swamped under these circumstances, the boatmen com
monly find no difficulty in keeping afloat at first, for
the current keeps both them and their cargo up for a
long way down the stream; and if they can swim, they
have only to work their way gradually to the shore.
The greatest danger is of being caught in an eddy be
hind some larger rock, where the water rushes up stream
faster than elsewhere it does down, and being carried
round and round under the surface till they are drowned.
McCauslin pointed out some rocks which had been the
scene of a fatal accident of this kind. Sometimes the
body is not thrown out for several hours. He himself
had performed such a circuit once, only his legs being
visible to his companions; but he was fortunately


thrown out in season to recover his breath. 1 In shoot
ing the rapids, the boatman has this problem to solve:
to choose a circuitous and safe course amid a thousand
sunken rocks, scattered over a quarter or half a mile,
at the same time that he is moving steadily on at the
rate of fifteen miles an hour. Stop he cannot; the only
question is, where will he go ? The bowman chooses
the course with all his eyes about him, striking broad
off with his paddle, and drawing the boat by main
force into her course. The sternman faithfully follows
the bow.

We were soon at the Aboljacarmegus Falls. Anxious
to avoid the delay, as well as the labor, of the portage
here, our boatmen went forward first to reconnoitre,
and concluded to let the batteau down the falls, carry
ing the baggage only over the portage. Jumping from
rock to rock until nearly in the middle of the stream,
we were ready to receive the boat and let her down over
the first fall, some six or seven feet perpendicular. The
boatmen stand upon the edge of a shelf of rock, where
the fall is perhaps nine or ten feet perpendicular, in
from one to two feet of rapid water, one on each side
of the boat, and let it slide gently over, till the bow is
run out ten or twelve feet in the air; then, letting it
drop squarely, while one holds the painter, the other
leaps in, and his companion following, they are whirled

1 I cut this from a newspaper: "On the llth (instant ?) [May, '49],
on Rappogenes Falls, Mr. John Delantee, of Orono, Me., was drowned
while running logs. He was a citizen of Orono, and was twenty-six
years of age. His companions found his body, enclosed it in bark, and
buried it in the solemn woods."


down the rapids to a new fall or to smooth water. In
a very few minutes they had accomplished a passage in
safety, which would be as foolhardy for the unskillful
to attempt as the descent of Niagara itself. It seemed
as if it needed only a little familiarity, and a little more
skill, to navigate down such falls as Niagara itself with
safety. At any rate, I should not despair of such men
in the rapids above Table Rock, until I saw them ac
tually go over the falls, so cool, so collected, so fertile
in resources are they. One might have thought that
these were falls, and that falls were not to be waded
through with impunity, like a mud-puddle. There was
really danger of their losing their sublimity in losing
their power to harm us. Familiarity breeds contempt.
The boatman pauses, perchance, on some shelf beneath
a table-rock under the fall, standing m some cove of
backwater two feet deep, and you hear his rough voice
come up through the spray, coolly giving directions how
to launch the boat this time.

Having carried round Pockwockomus Falls, our oars
soon brought us to the Katepskonegan, or Oak Hall
cany, where we decided to camp half-way over, leaving
our batteau to be carried over in the morning on fresh
shoulders. One shoulder of each of the boatmen showed
a red spot as large as one's hand, worn by the batteau
on this expedition; and this shoulder, as it did all the
work, was perceptibly lower than its fellow, from long
service. Such toil soon wears out the strongest consti
tution. The drivers are accustomed to work in the cold
water in the spring, rarely ever dry; and if one falls in all
over he rarely changes his clothes till night, if then, even.


One who takes this precaution is called by a particular
nickname, or is turned off. None can lead this life who
are not almost amphibious. McCauslin said soberly,
what is at any rate a good story to tell, that he had seen
where six men were wholly under water at once, at a
jam, with their shoulders to handspikes. If the log did
not start, then they had to put out their heads to breathe.
The driver works as long as he can see, from dark to
dark, and at night has not time to eat his supper and
dry his clothes fairly, before he is asleep on his cedar
bed. We lay that night on the very bed made by such
a party, stretching our tent over the poles which were
still standing, but re-shingling the damp and faded bed
with fresh leaves.

In the morning we carried our boat over and launched
it, making haste lest the wind should rise. The boat
men ran down Passamagamet, and soon after Ambejijis
Falls, while we walked round with the baggage. We
made a hasty breakfast at the head of Ambejijis Lake
on the remainder of our pork, and were soon rowing
across its smooth surface again, under a pleasant sky,
the mountain being now clear of clouds in the north
east. Taking turns at the oars, we shot rapidly across
Deep Cove, the foot of Pamadumcook, and the North
Twin, at the rate of six miles an hour, the wind not being
high enough to disturb us, and reached the Dam at noon.
The boatmen went through one of the log sluices in the
batteau, where the fall was ten feet at the bottom, and
took us in below. Here was the longest rapid in our
voyage, and perhaps the running this was as dangerous
and arduous a task as any. Shooting down sometimes


at the rate, as we judged, of fifteen miles an hour, if
we struck a rock we were split from end to end in an
instant. Now like a bait bobbing for some river mon
ster, amid the eddies, now darting to this side of the
stream, now to that, gliding swift and smooth near to
our destruction, or striking broad off with the paddle
and drawing the boat to right or left with all our might,
in order to avoid a rock. I suppose that it was like
running the rapids of the Sault Sainte Marie, at the
outlet of Lake Superior, and our boatmen probably
displayed no less dexterity than the Indians there do.
We soon ran through this mile, and floated in Quakish

After such a voyage, the troubled and angry waters,
which once had seemed terrible and not to be trifled
with, appeared tamed and subdued; they had been
bearded and worried in their channels, pricked and
whipped into submission with the spike-pole and pad
dle, gone through and through with impunity, and all
their spirit and their danger taken out of them, and the
most swollen and impetuous rivers seemed but playthings
henceforth. I began, at length, to understand the boat
man's familiarity with, and contempt for, the rapids.
" Those Fowler boys," said Mrs. McCauslin, " are per
fect ducks for the water." They had run down to
Lincoln, according to her, thirty or forty miles, in a
batteau, in the night, for a doctor, when it was so dark
that they could not see a rod before them, and the river
was swollen so as to be almost a continuous rapid, so
that the doctor cried, when they brought him up by day
light, "Why, Tom, how did you see to steer?" "We


did n't steer much, only kept her straight." And yet
they met with no accident. It is true, the more difficult
rapids are higher up than this.

When we reached the Millinocket opposite to Tom's
house, and were waiting for his folks to set us over,
for we had left our batteau above the Grand Falls,
we discovered two canoes, with two men in each, turn
ing up this stream from Shad Pond, one keeping the
opposite side of a small island before us, while the other
approached the side where we were standing, examin
ing the banks carefully for muskrats as they came along.
The last proved to be Louis Neptune and his compan
ion, now, at last, on their way up to Chesuncook after
moose, but they were so disguised that we hardly knew
them. At a little distance they might have been taken
for Quakers, with their broad-brimmed hats and over
coats with broad capes, the spoils of Bangor, seeking a
settlement in this Sylvania, or, nearer at hand, for
fashionable gentlemen the morning after a spree. Met
face to face, these Indians in their native woods looked
like the sinister and slouching fellows whom you meet
picking up strings and paper in the streets of a city.
There is, in fact, a remarkable and unexpected resem
blance between the degraded savage and the lowest
classes in a great city. The one is no more a child of
nature than the other. In the progress of degradation
the distinction of races is soon lost. Neptune at first
was only anxious to know what we " kill, " seeing some
partridges in the hands of one of the party, but we
had assumed too much anger to permit of a reply. We
thought Indians had some honor before. But "Me


been sick. Oh, me unwell now. You make bargain,
then me go." They had in fact been delayed so long by
a drunken frolic at the Five Islands, and they had not
yet recovered from its effects. They had some young
musquash in their canoes, which they dug out of the
banks with a hoe, for food, not for their skins, for
musquash are their principal food on these expeditions.
So they went on up the Millinocket, and we kept down
the bank of the Penobscot, after recruiting ourselves
with a draught of Tom's beer, leaving Tom at his

Thus a man shall lead his life away here on the edge
of the wilderness, on Indian Millinocket Stream, in a
new world, far in the dark of a continent, and have a
flute to play at evening here, while his strains echo to
the stars, amid the howling of wolves; shall live, as it
were, in the primitive age of the world, a primitive man.
Yet he shall spend a sunny day, and in this century be
my contemporary; perchance shall read some scattered
leaves of literature, and sometimes talk with me. Why
read history, then, if the ages and the generations are
now ? He lives three thousand years deep into time, an
age not yet described by poets. Can you well go further
back in history than this ? Ay! ay! for there turns up
but now into the mouth of Millinocket Stream a still
more ancient and primitive man, whose history is not
brought down even to the former. In a bark vessel
sewn with the roots of the spruce, with horn-beam pad
dles, he dips his way along. He is but dim and misty
to me, obscured by the seons that lie between the bark
canoe and the batteau. He builds no house of logs, but


a wigwam of skins. He eats no hot bread and sweet
cake, but musquash and moose meat and the fat of
bears. He glides up the Millinocket and is lost to my
sight, as a more distant and misty cloud is seen flitting
by behind a nearer, and is lost in space. So he goes
about his destiny, the red face of man.

After having passed the night, and buttered our boots
for the last time, at Uncle George's, whose dogs almost
devoured him for joy at his return, we kept on down
the river the next day, about eight miles on foot, and
then took a batteau, with a man to pole it, to Matta-
wamkeag, ten more. At the middle of that very night,
to make a swift conclusion to a long story, we dropped
our buggy over the half -finished bridge at Oldtown,
where we heard the confused din and clink of a hun
dred saws, which never rest, and at six o'clock the next

Online LibraryHenry David ThoreauThe writings of Henry David Thoreau (Volume 3) → online text (page 6 of 25)